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The ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON
Based on the 1974 true story of would-be assassin Samuel Byck, a paranoid and alienated salesman who is tired of preying on customers. Rejected for a government loan and spurned by his family, he focuses his resentment on Nixon as the figurehead of the US capitalist system and obsessively plots his downfall.
Yap Yew Jin
Watch this if you liked:
"Taxi Driver", "I am Sam"
If you need any reason to catch "The Assassination Of Richard Nixon", having Sean Penn in the lead role is good reason enough. Considered a milder take on the old "Taxi Driver" concept, Niels Mueller's drama is well-constructed and engaging enough to warrant a look - but it's Penn's solid performance in the film that elevates it into something more noteworthy.
In the bleak and compelling drama based on a true story, Penn plays Sam Bicke, a frustrated man whose life is falling apart. His wife (Naomi Watts) has left him, his kids don't care and his job as a office furniture salesman is as depressing as hell. As America fights in Vietnam and President Richard Nixon continues his lies on every single television, Bicke begins to unravel and hatch a plan to fly a plane into the White House.
Does the last part sound familiar? The president in question is Richard Nixon and not George Bush but it doesn't take a critic to draw the obvious similarities. Whether Osama bin Laden was inspired by Sam Bicke is open to question, but you can be sure of one thing - this definitely isn't the last of movies inspired by the 9/11 tragedy as we got "United 93" and "World Trade Centre" lined up this year.
For a first time director, Niels Mueller's debut is rather impressive. He has a thorough understanding of his stars and demands the best of them at all times. In addition to Penn, Mueller manages to inspire masterful performances from Don Cheadle and Michael Wincott. In fact, the only actress not pulling her weight is Naomi Watts and it's a shame to see such lacklustre acting from a woman who excelled in another feature with Penn, "21 Grams".
Does the film have a message? At least, I think there is. It is a character study and journey of a man who is heading to the brink of insanity. Mueller wisely keeps Sam in the frame throughout the film and we become forever bound to him as the story unfolds. In the end, the movie successfully tells the tale of a criminal person without ever forcing us to condone his crimes.
Despite being a one-man-show by Sean Penn, "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" is touted as a classic in the making. It may be tough viewing and there are no shining moments to lighten the mood, but it's really compulsive and a true masterpiece of dramatic filmmaking.
Cinema Online, 23 September 2008
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